Government's double talk on the environment

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus Jimenez - The Freeman

Most of the senators and congressmen investigating the Chocolate Hills fiasco come from districts with pollution, forest denudation, and the continuing devastation of the natural environment. This is another case of the pot calling the kettle black.

What happens when the lawgiver becomes the violator? When the government violates its own laws, what should the people do to protect their rights and interests? The ultimate dream of the sovereign Filipino people is to build a just and humane society, a society which lives in a healthful and balanced ecology. The prime duty of the government is to serve and to protect the people. But when the government itself leads in the destruction of the mountains and cutting of trees, what are the legal and judicial remedies that the people should seek?

The answer was provided in the landmark decision of Justice Hilario Davide Jr., in Oposa, et al, vs. Factoran, et al, GR no 101083, promulgated on July 30, 1993. The answer was to sue the government, that means the agency or the unit that committed the proximate causes of the acts constituting a legal cause of action. In Oposa, the DENR was sued through its then Secretary Fulgencio Factoran Jr. The plaintiffs were minor children of environmental activist, Atty. Antonio A. Oposa, Jr., who declared that they have strong evidence to show that the present generation led by the government was in the overt and covert acts of continuing to "rape Mother Earth." In that case, the people won, and the government lost.

The reasons are many, persuasive, and indubitable. The Supreme Court held the government liable for willfully violating the constitutional right of the Filipino people, including the future generations, represented by the minor petitioners, to a balanced and healthful ecology. The government was declared guilty of "misappropriation and impairment" of Philippine rainforests. The Supreme Court was petitioned by the plaintiffs to "arrest the unabated hemorrhage of the country's vital life support systems" and the so-called "continued rape of Mother Earth". From the 1970s under the stewardship of the first Marcos, there were 16 million hectares of rainforests. In the 1990’s, under Cory and FVR, the rainforest was reduced to less than four hectares.

Davide’s decision was concurred by associate justices Cruz, Padilla, Bidin, Grino-Aquino, Regalado, Romero, Nocon, Bellosillo, Melo, and Quiazon. Chief justice Narvasa and justices Puno and Vitug took no part. The majority held that the government violated Article II, Section 15 mandating that the State shall protect and promote the right to health of the people and instill health consciousness among them. Ravaging the environment causes climate change and brings about the "greenhouse effect" that compromises the air and water quality, thereby undermining the health of the people. Destroying the balance of nature by cutting trees and leveling mountains destroys the natural habitat of flora and fauna which shall cause drought, famine, and hunger.

The Supreme Court declared the government guilty of violating Section 16 of the same article which directs the State to protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature. The Supreme Court also declared the government guilty of violating both Marcos' PD and President Cory's EO 192 which declared it to be the policy of the State to ensure the sustainable use, development, management, renewal, and conservation of the country's forest, minerals, land, off-shore areas, and other natural resources, including the protection and enhancement of the quality of the environment, the equitable access of the different segments of the population to the development and use of the country's natural resources, not only for this generation but for the future generations as well.

The Supreme Court held the government to task for not upholding the said policy's explicit command, that it is the policy of the State to recognize and apply a true value system including social and environmental cost implications relative to the utilization, development, and conservation of our natural resources. The DENR also in this case of Oposa vs. Factoran was held to have deviated from the provision of the 1987 Administrative Code which mandated the State to ensure, for the benefit of the Filipino people, the full exploration and development as well as judicious disposition, utilization, management, renewal and conservation of the country's forest, mineral, land, waters, fisheries, wildlife, offshore areas and other natural resources.

The bottom line of all these is that the government and its officials, both national and local, should be the first vanguard against the distortions of the rhythm and harmony of nature, and should be the last to participate in the "unabated rape of Mother Earth."

The vigilant stewards should never become the ravishing predators. But this is precisely happening here and now.

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